For some, it’s a chance to experience a new culture. For others, it’s all about the money. But while the personal and financial rewards can be attractive, teaching overseas is a big step – and not without its risks. The key is to do plenty of research, and to be clear what you want from your time abroad.
Opportunities are certainly plentiful. There are more than 3,000 international schools around the globe, from Albania to Zimbabwe. They cater largely, but by no means exclusively, for ex-pat workers and usually offer a curriculum based on the UK or American exam systems, or the International Baccalaureate.
International schools tend to be privately run, but some countries are also happy to recruit UK teachers into their state schools. New Zealand, for example, can’t always fill posts with home-grown graduates, while China and Abu Dhabi are moving towards a bilingual curriculum, with some lessons taught in English.
“The demand for English-speaking teachers is growing rapidly at the moment,” says Diane Jacoutot of overseas recruitment agency Teachanywhere. “In the past, you would have needed a few years’ experience in the UK before looking for an overseas post. Now even an NQT has a good chance of landing a job abroad, if they’ve got something about them.”
Where you choose to head will depend on your priorities. The Middle East is a hot destination in more ways than one, thanks to tax-free salaries of up to £40,000. If you’re looking to pay off your student loan it’s probably the best bet, since free accommodation is usually included.
But other destinations also get good reports. China and Southeast Asia enjoy a reputation for good working conditions and motivated students. South America, too, has plenty of advocates. Teachers there say academic standards are generally high, and pay and conditions decent.
When you’re weighing up what’s on offer, you need to look at the whole picture. Financially, you have to factor in tax rates, as well as the general cost of living. It’s likely that a salary of £20,000 in Vietnam will stretch further than £30,000 in France or Germany.
And of course, personal and professional happiness are key. The pay in international schools in Spain, for example, is usually below UK levels, but if the lifestyle and climate appeal, it may be worth the trade-off.
So how to go about landing a job? As with the UK jobs market, January to March tends to be the busiest time. Overseas schools may advertise vacancies in the press or online, but many prefer to use specialist recruitment companies, so it makes sense to get yourself on the books of a reputable agency as well as keeping your eye on the TES jobs pages and website.
“I was thinking of France, Italy or the Seychelles,” admits Harry McFaul, who took up his position as head of Greensprings School in Nigeria last year. “But the agency said this was a good school and that I shouldn’t be put off. I’m glad I listened to them – it’s been brilliant.”
When applying for overseas posts, you’ll need to tweak your CV a little. Steer clear of UK-specific jargon, and explain your qualifications clearly. You may choose to give your reasons for looking to move abroad, but don’t get carried away. Focus on your suitability for the job in hand, not your love of Chinese food or desire to go surfing after work.
Interviews are increasingly conducted via Skype, although some overseas heads still prefer to travel for face-to-face meetings. They may even carry out speculative interviews if they happen to be in the UK, and keep candidates’ details on file.
Above all, do your homework before applying – and then again, before accepting the job. It’s hard to stress how important this is. Some international schools are run for profit by unscrupulous businessmen, while others struggle to pay their bills – and their teachers’ salaries.
Internet forums have made it easy for teachers to share their tales of woe, and it’s not hard to get a feel for whether a school is trustworthy. Aside from rogue schools, another common concern is “moving back”.
Teachers who do a stint abroad sometimes say it can be hard to break back into the UK job market. But these days most heads treat overseas experience with respect, rather than suspicion.
“Teaching abroad is often a short-term move,” says John Bastable, principal of the International Community School in Jordan. “But it can also be a very rewarding long-term career choice.”
He speaks from experience, having now been head at seven schools in six countries across four continents. “Over the past 30 years, my wife and I have been able to contribute to the development of international education and explore different teaching systems. Our children have grown up internationally minded and well travelled, and our lives have been enriched by the different languages and cultures. My only real regret is not taking this path earlier in my career.”
Before you go
- Don’t assume your qualifications will be recognised everywhere. In some countries you may need a postgraduate degree to teach.
- There are plenty of opportunities for teaching couples. Overseas schools generally have a high staff turnover, increasing the likelihood of two suitable vacancies.
- Be sure to ask about a school’s CPD programme – it may be key to future employability.
- Go through contracts carefully. In some schools a chunk of the salary is dependent on completing a minimum of two years in post.
- Health insurance can be a major cost, if not included in the package.
- Some countries have an upper age limit of 60 for teachers – schools may be wary of employing teachers close to that.
- Don’t forget that there are also volunteer opportunities in the developing world. All you’ll get is a local wage and housing, but it can be a life-changing experience. And future employers may view that kind of experience more positively than a dirham-driven move to Dubai.
Resources and advice to help you find a job overseas
Check out the Council of International Schools’ accreditation scheme.
The TES teaching overseas forum allows teachers to share their experiences.
Read more on the Dos and dont's of working overseas
Advice on doing your research on overseas schools
Finding a teaching job overseas
We list hundreds of international teaching on the TES website every week, here are some of the most popular job searches:
International jobs by workplace
Overseas jobs by regions
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